Corbat Heads to Cancer Benefit as Staff Beats Fundraising Target

  • Junior staffer, cancer survivor Robert Perretta drove campaign
  • Corbat eats dumplings, bids on cocktail party at Daniel

At the Plaza Hotel Thursday night, Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbatcelebrated a project that beat its revenue target by 37 percent.

The lender’s employees contributed $34,320 to the Stephen D. Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, surpassing the $25,000 goal and accounting for a nice chunk of the $860,000 brought in by the Adults in Toyland casino-themed benefit.

At play in the Plaza Hotel’s ballroom

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Robert Perretta and his girlfriend Haley Wile

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Corbat’s first stop at the event: a visit with the junior employee who helped start the campaign, Robert Perretta, a 30-year-old assistant vice president in Citigroup’s technology compliance department.

Jeb Winton, Michael Corbat and Nima Mirzad

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The pair shook hands as guests filed in. Perretta beamed. Corbat said he was just as excited to spend time with him.

Later, Corbat made a bid in the silent auction for a cocktail party at Daniel, talked to a client, and hit the dumpling station with Ed Skyler, chairman of the Citi Foundation.

Perretta took in the roving magician’s card tricks and the wads of fake Hassenfeld money being traded in for chips at the tables. He greeted other Citigroup employees -- there were more than 50 attending, including Joel Steinhaus and Sara Wechter.

David Chubak, Jamie Chubak, Sarah Steinhaus, Joel Steinhaus and Josh Wechter

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Corbat’s involvement with the event owes to a close staffer’s child being treated at Hassenfeld, part of NYU Langone Medical Center. Perretta has an even more personal connection: he was diagnosed with cancer in high school and treated at Hassenfeld.

It’s not a story he tells often. In 2001, he was an emerging hockey star at his school in Canada, where his parents had deposited him after a seven-hour drive from Staten Island. That meant he was far from home early in the semester, when his cousin, a fireman, died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The loss hit hard. So did the constant travel across the border for memorial services, and the demands of school and hockey. Perretta began to feel tired. He had trouble staying on the ice. Then he couldn’t make it up the hill to his dorm.

He spent a week in the school’s infirmary, and was sent to a hospital in Vermont for tests. "It was a young nurse who told me -- it could be this, it could be this, or it could be cancer," Perretta recalled. "I started freaking out." His parents drove up in the middle of the night and took him straight to NYU.

Robert Perretta visits the Hassenfeld Children’s Center last month

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The next day, Nov. 17, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and began cycles of intense chemotherapy. "My aunt came and shaved my head before it all fell out, because she’s a hairdresser." His parents took turns spending three days at a time by his side.

A basketball hoop and a starry ceiling in a treatment room at Hassenfeld

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

There were platelet transplants, spinal taps and lots of movies, as he didn’t have strength for much else. He weighed 155 pounds at the start of the school year, and 95 pounds by the spring. He was in remission. "AML is the more intense form of leukemia. It either beats you fast, or you beat it fast."

Harlan and Brian Saroken

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Perretta went back to school and put on his hockey jersey again. After college, he returned to New York and began raising money for Hassenfeld. His efforts led to the purchase of a kid-sized treatment chair and other items designed to make patients more comfortable.

Last year, Perretta earned a spot on the Adults in Toyland committee, alongside more established finance professionals like Harlan Saroken and Michael Weaver.

Michael Weaver, Chad Ruble, Ann Ruble and John Stein

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Learning that Citi was already the presenting sponsor, Perretta decided to tap his own contacts at work. He went to his boss’s boss’s boss, who helped him raise $9,000 within the technology department. This year, the goal increased to $25,000, with two senior managers, David Chubak and Jon D’Onofrio, leading a broader outreach. Citigroup’s total gift, including the $75,000 sponsorship, came to $109,320.

Perretta also called on some friends from his hockey days to obtain auction items, like a signed New York Rangers jersey. “I know from afar, it’s a touching story what I am doing now, but I don’t see it that way. I am just trying to help out the place that saved my life as much as I can."

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